8 Exercises for Weight Loss That Won't Impact the Knees

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Amy McGorry on August 15, 2021
  • senior woman lying on yoga mat
    Exercise to lose weight without hurting your knees.
    Losing weight can be difficult when pain and stiffness from arthritic knees keep you from being active and makes it tough to burn calories. Studies suggest carrying a few extra pounds can create added pressure on joints causing further stress to your knees which may hamper your exercise level even more. So what exercises can you do to lose weight without irritating your knees? Let’s explore a few.
  • weight-machine-leg-lift
    1. Strength Training
    Studies show as you get older, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease. Fat accounts for more of your weight which slows down your body’s ability to burn calories. But muscles reportedly burn more calories than fat, so by building up muscle through strength training, you can boost your body’s ability to burn more calories. Developing muscles also increases your body’s ability to absorb shock to your joints, something that can benefit an arthritic knee. Strengthening exercises include lifting weights, using weight machines at the gym, and resistance band training.
  • Smiling senior women in pool
    2. Water Aerobics
    Water aerobics can make a splash when it comes to weight loss and strengthening muscles especially when you have pain in your knees. Fitness experts say water helps un-weight your joints allowing you to move more freely without feeling the impact of hard ground surfaces that stress an inflamed knee joint. There are water weights and assistive equipment to help. And try walking in the pool for an extra workout. Water has much greater resistance than air, which means walking in water requires more effort, thus burns more calories.
  • bike 84410545 47
    3. Biking
    Riding a stationary bike is a good way to burn calories and is a nice alternative to running which can irritate your knees.  Experts suggest doing at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity 5 times a week to see the beneficial effects. A bike also addresses the range of motion in your knees, hips, and ankles which is often affected by arthritis. Keep the resistance mild to moderate and vary your speed. Be sure your knees don’t roll in or roll out while pedaling to avoid straining them.
  • Male Walking in Sneakers
    4. Walking
    Looking for a low impact exercise that burns calories? Walking typically puts less pressure on your joints compared to running. Be sure to wear cushioned supportive sneakers. Also, avoid walking with your toes facing out to the sides. This puts more pressure on the inner portion of your knee joints. Walking on grassy surfaces will also soften the blow on your knees as you walk. Experts suggest exercising at a moderate pace 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week to help burn fat.
  • man-drinking-water-on-stationary-bike
    5. High Intensity Interval Training
    Depending on your fitness level, try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to shed abdominal fat. HIIT involves performing short bursts of exercise at a high intensity level followed by a longer lower intensity level. You can do these cycles on a stationary bike or an elliptical machine to avoid hurting your knees while exercising outside on pavement.
  • woman-doing-yoga-in-park
    6. Yoga
    Yoga not only burns calories it has added benefits that may help you lose weight and alleviate inflammation in your knee joints. Fitness experts say yoga has been shown to lower cortisol–a stress chemical that some studies link to weight gain. Another study revealed women who practiced yoga showed lower levels of interleukin-6 in their blood, a protein that causes inflammation. Inflammation plays a central role in the painful swelling and stiffness in arthritic joints. Yoga also addresses muscle strength and flexibility which can help keep you moving with other activities.
  • Tai Chi
    7. Tai Chi
    A recent study found that tai chi can specifically reduce the pain and physical impairment of people with severe knee osteoarthritis.Tai chi offers a way to burn some calories and incorporates range of motion, strengthening, flexibility and balance motions–all of which can be affected by arthritic knees.
  • man in pool
    8. Swimming
    Swimming is a great way to get aerobic exercise with the added benefit of using the water’s buoyancy to help reduce impact on your joints. It also addresses the range of motion of your arms and legs. Swimming strengthens leg muscles which protect your knees throughout the day. Fins and kickboards are available to enhance your swimming routine. If the pool is heated, it can help soothe stiff joints.
8 Exercises for Weight Loss That Won't Impact the Knees
  1. Messier SP, Gutekunst DJ, Davis C, DeVita P. Weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Jul; 52(7):2026-32.
  2. Messier SP, Loeser RF, Mitchell MN, Valle G, Morgan TP, Rejeski WJ, Ettinger WH. Exercise and weight loss in obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis: a preliminary study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2000 Sep;48(9):1062-72.
  3. Quintrec JL, Verlhac B, Cadet C, Bréville P, Vetel JM, Gauvain JB, Jeandel C, Maheu E. Physical exercise and weight loss for hip and knee osteoarthritis in very old patients: a systematic review of the literature. Open Rheumatol J. 2014 Nov ;28(8):89-95.
  4. Sarvottam K, Magan D, Yadav RK, Mehta N, et al. Adiponectin, Interleukin-6, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors are Modified by a Short-Term Yoga-Based Lifestyle Intervention in Overweight and Obese Men. J Altern Complement Med. 2014;19 (5): 397–402.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 15
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